3D Building Models for Energy Management

I have had a number of interesting conversations in the past week or so that have focused me more than ever on the issue of managing our buildings' energy use through the use of Facilities GIS.  I had the opportunity last week to sit down with George Callas who is the Director of Sustainability at the New Forest Institute in Brooks, Maine.  At the New Forest Institute, they are training home energy auditors and have undertaken the ambitious task of weatherizing all of the homes in the town of Brooks.  George's main concern was trying to model the outside of a building with just enough detail to provide the foundation of an energy assessment.   He needed to be able to model enough information about the building shell to create a baseline energy budget from which he could calculate the return on investment in energy savings from various home improvement projects.  Unfortunately, the only software tools on the market today that are capable of this kind of analysis are expensive and beyond the technical grasp of most home energy auditors.

Temperature profile in a recently measured office building Temperature profile in a recently measured office building

I have also been talking recently with my friend Niels LaCour from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  Niels is thinking about how better to measure and manage the energy consumption of the buildings on his campus.  They are fortunate to have many of their buildings outfitted with "smart building" systems from Johnson Controls.  If only he could harvest some of those smarts from his buildings into his GIS so that he could provide visualization and reporting tools to his facilities managers on campus...   The folks at MASDAR are very interested in the same basic problem.  As a community dedicated to achieving a zero carbon footprint, measuring and managing the energy profile of their buildings is a major concern.

We are starting to tackle issues related to modeling energy consumption of buildings on the BISDM technical committee as well.  Here is what I think about the problem so far:

  1. One of the key pieces to monitoring and managing energy use inside buildings is the energy metering system.  The more granular the metering the better.  The ideal situation is to tie in to a "smart building" system like Johnson Controls or Honeywell, but even at this level some of the energy constituents like fuel consumption may be difficult to measure.  On campuses like military installations or some college campuses where a large number of buildings may be fed by a central steam or chilled water plant this metering may be challenging, but the more that can be measured, the more that can be managed (to paraphrase Peter Drucker).

  2. The interface that we develop to visualize and report on energy consumption must be able to deal with the TIME dimension at multiple different scales.  It is important to understand our energy consumption patterns as they vary during the day, during the week, and across seasons.  It is also important to be able to establish a baseline energy consumption pattern so that we can measure the effectiveness of any management actions that we might undertake.


We are at a point where technology no longer is a barrier to developing  intuitive and powerful systems that both monitor our buildings energy consumption patterns across campus and allow us to proactively manage those systems to drive down our energy consumption over time.  Will we wait until oil prices rise again before we start to take advantage of these capabilities?

Rooms symbolized by temperature Rooms symbolized by temperature